If you’ve not yet read Sophie Cameron’s debut novel, Out of the Blue, then you won’t know what a magical treat you’re in for. With her second novel, Last Bus to Everland, Sophie has once again delivered an emotional, realistic, contemporary novel, full of love, hope, and magic.
The novel is set in Scotland as well as a magical Narnia-esque place, and delivers its story with such a light touch, while still reaching deep into some serious issues. The way the story deals with bullying is exemplary, and allows us to follow Brody through a full arc of emotions in how he deals with (or doesn’t deal with) bullies. I really appreciated how Brody doesn’t just suddenly find an inner strength out of nothing in order to cope with his bullies, but slowly builds up to a place where he can confront them and start to push back.
One of the things that is explored superbly in Last Bus to Everland is poverty. Brody is part of a working-class family, and Sophie Cameron approaches that head on, never shying away from the hardships his family faces, and providing no magical cures. We definitely need more books that deal with parents working shifts, cutting back on food, and struggling to pay bills – and discussing this with their children. How this is portrayed, and Brody’s reactions to this, are carefully weaved into the magical storyline, allowing the reader to feel a part of the family and the struggles they are going through.
Brody is not a perfect character, he has flaws and complexity. This was exhibited fantastically in how he responds to his father’s mental illness. Brody tries to sympathise, but often times doesn’t quite know how to keep being understanding when faced with all the difficulties the family faces. This realistic response is portrayed with subtle understanding and compassion by Sophie.
As with her debut, in Last Bus to Everland Sophie Cameron delivers a novel of quietly built tension, low-key passion, and believable love and friendship between a diverse cast of LGBTQ teens. A brilliant novel that will appeal to fans of contemporary or fantasy YA.
I received a copy of Last Bus to Everland by request to the publishers, Macmillan Children’s Books. It is released in the UK and Ireland on 16th May, and in the US in June.
A book reviewer has a difficult job, not every book will be suited to your tastes, and you will not be the intended audience of every book. This is especially important to remember when reading children’s or young adult fiction. If I had a pound for every review I’d read from an adult saying “this teen character isn’t very mature” I’d be a very rich but still very tired human.
I approached reading My Brother’s Name Is Jessica, by John Boyne, as I would any book, asking the question “who is this book for? Who is the intended audience?”
This is a children’s book, it is not intended for adults. While adults may read and enjoy children’s books – and many do – they are not the intended audience. The book has to be read through the lens of a child reader. It is also clear, having read the book that it is not intended for a trans child.
Writers can write what they want
There has been a lot of online discussion about this book, and it would be remiss of me not to address some of that. One of the arguments I have seen from many is that those speaking out against the book are applying censorship, that they are saying writers cannot write anything outside their narrow life experience. Give me strength. Okay, some people might be saying that, and they are wrong. Most people are not saying that, so let’s unpick it a bit.
There is a great difference between writing a story with a trans character, writing a story about a trans character, and writing a story about being trans. It’s the kind of nuance that gets lost in the brevity of Twitter arguments.
Every writer is entitled to write about whatever they want, but should every story be published? Does the responsibility to be mindful lie with the author or the publisher?
Stories are best when they reflect the world that we live in. You do not need to be trans to write a story with a trans character. The fact they are trans does not need to be the focus of the story, because (and I know this may come as a surprise to many) trans people are just normal people. So please, by all means, write a story with a trans character in, even if you’re not trans. No one rational is going to stop you or police what you write. We might call you out for writing a two dimensional stereotype, but I’m sure you can do some research and make a real person out of all your characters.
I would argue that it is fine for a writer to write a story about a trans character. Make a trans character your main character, make your story all about how they fought in the trenches of WWI, or how they learnt to communicate with shape shifting aliens in order to negotiate a new era of cooperation between earth and a distant alien planet. I, and many trans and non-binary people, would love to read these stories that centre trans characters without making the entire story about being trans.
I will happily agree to disagree with people who don’t think non-trans writers should be writing stories that have trans-characters in them. This is censorship, and people should be allowed to write whatever they want, provided they don’t write cliched, offensive, shite. I’m not a fan of shite, and all readers should be able to demand better.
So how about being? Is it okay for a non-trans writer to write about what it is like being trans? Well, this is a difficult one.
People do, at this point, like to trot out the “No human currently alive knows what it’s like to be an alien. So what, Jen, you’re saying no one can write a book with an alien in it?”
Obviously I am not, and you know that, and you’re just being a facetious little troublemaker looking for a fight. What I am saying is, there aren’t (and I’m sure someone will disagree with me on this) aliens living among us on earth. There aren’t aliens who we, as a society, have spent centuries silencing, castrating, murdering, imprisoning, and abusing.
We have done this to trans people throughout the world for centuries, and can you – as someone who does not identify as trans – know what it is like to live with the constant threat that someone might murder you for just being trans? No you can’t know this. You may be a member of a minority that has similar experiences, but you cannot speak for a minority that you are not a member of. Can you research, interview people, and learn enough to write a story that really conveys what this experience is like? Yes, probably. But should you? And will you do it well?
Should you tell another person’s story?
There are numerous accounts from writers who have tried to publish their stories, ones that are about being only to be told “we already have a story about that”. Except the publisher doesn’t. They have a story that is with or about not being. Or, it is about being but it’s by someone who did not live that life, and it is not their story. It is a fallacy to say there is a unlimited amount of space on the shelves for writers, because publishing has to make money in order to survive, and publishers do not want to publish two identical books. If a non-trans writer is already published, telling the story that a trans writer wants to tell, then they are taking the place of another writer.
I would argue that a writer should think twice, as should publishers, before they put out into the world yet another book that tells the story of a minority community that the writer is not a part of. Instead, publishers should be doing more to seek out the stories that come direct from these communities first.
This is about more than just the limited publishing spaces available for writers, this is also about who will read your book, and what they will get from it. Which brings me right back to the start and to the other question I left unanswered, will you do it well?
I find it a laughable idea that people think a writer from outside a minority, can tell the story of what it is like to be member of a minority better than someone who is actually from that minority. They can’t. Maybe one individual can be a better writer than another, but that is a different argument, and let’s not pretend it isn’t.
My Brother’s Name is Jessica is not written by a trans writer, but that should not stop John Boyne being allowed to write this story, he is perfectly entitled to do so.
My Brother’s Name is Jessica is it not about being trans. Jessica is not the main character, and everything in her life is seen through the lens of her younger brother.
My Brother’s Name is Jessica is a story with a trans character – so far so okay – but it is also about a trans character.
Trans children are not the intended audience for this book, it is intended for those who are like Jessica’s younger brother.
The first chapter introduces us to the idea that Jessica is her brother Sam’s hero – the person he admires more than anything or anyone in the world. Sam loves Jessica so much he is the only one who notices that something is bothering her. This is not a book about Jessica, it’s a book about Sam.
It’s not about you
I hate to have to break it to you, but if your child is trans, if your sibling is trans, if your friend is trans, it has nothing to do with you. It is not about you, about your pain, or about how difficult your life is or how traumatic it is for you. This story is entirely about that, it is not about a trans character, it is about how their “choices” affect their family, specifically their brother Sam. As this is not a story whose intended audience is trans children, having a story that focuses on the brother is not in itself a bad thing. Children will have to meet trans school friends, they will have trans people in their family, and for a lot of children this might be confusing for them, especially if they have awful parents like the parents in this book.
A great book I would love to read would be exploring how a sibling develops an understanding of their sister’s gender identity, working out how they can support their sister. It would be great to see a trans child supported, and transphobia called out. It is very disappointing that none of that happens in this book. John Boyne is a great writer, and this book will get a lot of publicity, so it’s deeply regrettable that it does not do what I think was clearly the intention with the book.
If you want to read the book yourself, and therefore want to avoid spoilers, I would recommend you stop reading now.
As, by the end of the book, Sam has accepted that Jessica is his sister, it is curious that he spends the entire book saying “my brother Jason”. And not just occasionally, but every single time Sam mentions Jessica he says that phrase. Even in conversation it’s “said my brother Jason”. A very odd way of speaking that seems to have been written specifically to remind us who Jessica is, and exactly what Sam thinks of this. The repetitive use of Jessica’s dead name would be understandable perhaps if it was written in present tense, but being in past tense just made it seem like it wasn’t the result of Sam’s emotions at the time, but a deliberate attempt to remind the reader that Jessica is different, Jessica is other, Jessica isn’t really Jessica at all.
Throughout the book people are demanding that Jessica provide evidence of her transness, asking for specific moments when bad things happened to her that caused her to reflect on her gender identity. This is something that trans people have to face a lot, people asking them to prove who they are and why they feel the way they do – demanding they must suffer in order to have come to a particular understanding of their gender identity. It’s a shame that this is included in the book with no counter argument from Jessica or those who support her.
The adults in the book are almost overwhelmingly transphobic, and perhaps this does reflect the society we live in, which is a depressing thought. With the exception of Jessica’s football coach, and her Aunt, everyone else is deeply transphobic. Again, it is disappointing that this occurs time and again in the book with no one calling the adults up on this, no one stopping them, and no counter-argument given for this behaviour. It is left unchecked and not adequately responded to. There are so many ways in which supportive adult role-models could have been brought into the story. I would have loved to see more of Aunt Rose earlier in the book – and not just as Jessica’s knight in shining armour at the end, but a constant source of support who also kicks back at the other adults.
Jessica’s parents decide to seek the help of a psychologist, and rather than book an appointment for her, they force her and Sam, and both of them, to attend together. This felt like an unfortunate plot point to get the narrator Sam into the room, and once again makes the parents and Sam the focus of Jessica’s story, centering the narrative around them.
It is in this counselling session that we start to see just how abusive Jessica’s parents are to her. I would call it bullying for certain. They want credit from her for “trying” to understand, and they make her feel bad for not giving them credit – it has all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. But no one points out their bullying, no one tells them to give Jessica some credit for the strength she is showing, not a single character at this point is backing Jessica up. At one point the psychologist says Jessica has to “hear them out too”, but does not chastise the parents for their bullying behaviour.
The focus is never on Jessica, and I would have liked to see more conversations between Sam and Jessica that moved the shift over to her. There are attempts at this, but they often ended in arguments, or transphobic comments left unchecked.
I want to stop here to say that yes, I know this is probably a realistic portrayal of what many young trans children have to go through, but let’s think again about who this book is for. This is for young children who aren’t trans, so think about the message this is sending them at this point in the book – adults are transphobic, you can be too, there are no arguments against being so.
And then there is the hair incident. Jessica’s long “feminine” hair is mentioned repeatedly, and is clearly something that distresses her parents and Sam – which is why Sam eventually sneaks into Jessica’s room in the middle of the night and cuts off her ponytail. This manipulative bullying is never called out, but is seen as a sign of Sam’s distress and trauma at what Jessica is putting him through. Is this book telling children it’s okay to be shitty to people as long as they’re trans? You can bully people if you perceive they’re making life worse for you? I understand Sam’s action – it’s the action of a confused, angry, child – but the fact that it is an action that is never learnt from, that is seen as a reasonable reaction, is concerning.
Jessica’s mum does eventually realise the damage she’s done to her daughter, but she realises it because of how it affects her career – how it ruins her chance to be prime minister. That is the only reason she regrets how she bullied Jessica. This is one of the most concerning aspects of the book for me, how Jessica’s mum does such a swift about turn, and it is presented as her learning from her mistakes, but she does so because of the impact it is having on her career – not because of how Jessica has been affected by her abuse.
Jessica’s mum abuses her so much, in fact, that Jessica returns to the family, have shaved all her hair off, grown facial hair, and dressing masculine, because it will help her family and help her mum get the job she wants. This is a depressing moment in the book, where Jessica feels that she cannot be who she is, and must conform to her parent’s expectations of what she should look like, and who she is, in order to save her mum’s job and prevent a split in the family. But it’s okay, Jessica doesn’t have to actually go through with this, because Sam saves the day. He yells in front of the press that Jessica does exist and uses the line “My Brother’s Name is Jessica”. This, once again, removes all agency from Jessica and makes her entire story about other people, everything she does is for them.
This is a disappointing end to the book, Jessica has been bullied and abused by her own family, and forced into a situation where she feels she has to lie to them again. While this isn’t the end of the book – there is a short chapter set two years in the future – the actual end is very short and unsatisfying. It reads very much as if “everything is fine now” and that the way Jessica has been treated by her family had no repercussions for her or them.
There are some aspects of the book that I thought were bad simply because of the way they were handled, and I would have appreciated them if more detail was given, or more time spent on time.
The transphobic language, while very uncomfortable for many, is representative of what trans people have to endure. It does not benefit children to pretend this language doesn’t exist, or pretend that no one talks like this. I have no problem with this kind of language being used in a book, it is realistic – however, I am concerned about the damage it will do to children to read such language in a book, and to have it go unchallenged. As an adult reading this I can read between the lines and see problems with the language, see how people speak from a place of fear and misunderstanding of those different to them, but let’s go right back to what I was saying at the start, I am not the intended audience of this book. Would a ten year old pick up this book and understand the complex nuances behind such abuse when it remains unchallenged on the page?
Another aspect I thought was not handled well was the focus on the way Jessica looks (including the obsession with genitals – although Jessica does finally address this herself later in the book). It is true that some trans and non-binary people come to start expressing their identities through the way they look (hair, make-up, clothing) and it can be the focus of discomfort – but it is more than just about the way you dress. I was disappointed that the book focused so much on looks without seeing beyond this. Complexity can be brought into children’s books if it is handled well, so it’s a shame that didn’t happen in this case.
It is clear to me that John Boyne, and his publishers, had the best of intentions with what they were trying to do with the book, but for me it fails to achieve almost every one of its aims. So is there anything good about the book?
I liked how it addressed the conflation of gender identity and sexuality. This is a complex area (as Jessica says herself in the story) and can be difficult for many to understand, so I appreciated that it was addressed.
I was also thankful that there were some characters who fully supported Jessica, her football coach and her Aunt Rose, I just wish we’d had more of these adults intervening in her life.
One of the things I think the book did really well is convey what it is like to be a transphobe. It brilliantly portrays how it can be easy (when you’re being bullied because your sister is trans) to blame her, and wish she’d just kept quiet and not told anyone.
Unfortunately there is little else that would encourage me to recommend this book to a young person. I wish it had been just a little bit longer, that Sam had spent more time focussing on his sister and less time with the intricacies of their parent’s lives, and the mum’s ambition to be prime minister. The parental storyline didn’t add anything significant to it and really detracted from the book, I don’t really know why it was relevant to include.
It is unfortunate that the book ends with Sam still not getting it, still talking about how Jessica looks, how she has boobs now, how she looks less like a boy now.
Ultimately I found myself, having finished the book, not as angry as many people I have seen comment on it. I was just disappointed that the opportunity for a thoughtful, complex, story had been wasted. The book is not about what being trans is like. It is not about how difficult life can be when you’re trans. It’s about how difficult life is made for other people.
Reading a book that contains so much transphobia and abuse can be harrowing for anyone, but to have a resolution that sees people learn the error of their actions, see the damage they have done to someone, atone for their actions, and be a better person, is a book I would love to see written for children. This is unfortunately not that book.
Fanny and Stella were also known as Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, and in 1870 they made front page headlines after their trial at Bow Street Magistrates for “the abominable crime of buggery”. The two were put on trial to make an example of them, but dressing up as a woman in public wouldn’t give them much more than a warning, which is why the trial attempted to prove a physical relationship between the two, something for which the prosecutors lacked evidence or anyone willing to stand up in court to speak against them. They were eventually found not guilty.
A good place to start to get a feel for Victorian England and the world they lived in, is in The Petticoat Men by Barbara Ewing, which tells their story through the eyes of their landlady. This novel should give you an appetite to delve deeper into their lives, and you should pick up Neil McKenna‘s book Fanny & Stella. He reconstructs the lives the two, to tell a compelling story of how Fanny and Stella came into existence. He also provides rich and vivid detail of the lives of their friends in Victorian England.
First Duke of Buckingham, patron of the arts, courtier, and lover of King James I/VI. Often times George is referred to as the “favourite of King James” or as the “alleged lover”, but James once said of George “You may be sure that I love Buckingham more than anyone else”, and in a letter to the King, George wrote “I naturally so love your person, and adore all your other parts, which are more than ever one man had”. So I will, as many great historians have said, call Gay on this relationship.
George rose to power within James’ court and quickly became a force to be reckoned with. You can read a fascinating biography of George in The King’s Assassin: The Fatal Affair of George Villiers and James I by Benjamin Woolley, and explore the theory that the death of James was possibly at the hands of his lover.
Throughout her life Anne Lister, a Yorkshire landowner and traveller, kept diaries written in a secret code that was only uncovered after her death. The diaries include details of her finances, industrial activities on her land, and her lesbian relationships. The diaries are a fascinating insight into the daily life of a wealthy, independent, woman in the early 19th Century, but they also offer a glimpse into the love lives of women, and Anne’s fascinating seduction techniques.
You can read her de-coded diaries, and understand this fascinating woman in her own words, in The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister. It was this edition of her diaries that the 2010 BBC drama, starring Maxine Peake as Anne, was based on. A new biography of Anne was published last year: Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist by Angela Steidele and a new TV production also called Gentleman Jack is set to air sometime in 2019.
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I talk so much about novels, how about this week we have a look at some short stories instead?
I don’t know why I don’t read more short stories, because I really love them when I do take the time to read them. I’m going to try to read more this year. This post will feature some books I’ve already read, and ones I want to get around to.
First up is the brilliant A Portable Shelterfrom Kirsty Logan. I am a huge fan of Kirsty’s work, and absolutely adore her novels. Kirsty is gifted at telling dark, mysterious, unusual stories that have a depth, richness, and mystery unlike anything I’ve read before.
A Portable Shelter is a linked collection of stories. Liska and Ruth are waiting for the birth of their first child, and they tell stories to the baby, vowing to only speak the truth. Stories of circuses, selkie fishermen, werewolves, child-eating witches and broken-toothed dragons, all woven into the fabric of Liska and Ruth’s relationship within each other, and their hopes for their unborn child.
This is truly a magical collection. You can also find more Kirsty Logan short stories in The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales.
All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages is a collection by of historical fiction by multiple authors. This collection includes seventeen stories and I’ve read some of them, but not all yet – I will get around to finishing it soon.
There is a great variety in the settings, style, and genre of the stories, but one thing they all have in common is that the characters are all queer teens. A fantastic addition to your short story collections.
I definitely have to include the upcoming Proud anthology in this post. I know I’ve talked about it before, and I’ll talk about it more when it comes out, but it is such an excellent YA collection.
I’ve not finished every story yet but the ones I have read have made me laugh and cry. Each story comes with a fantastic illustration and the collection also features some poetry.
It’s out in March and you can pre-order now.
I should definitely follow up Proud with another queer anthology, and that is We Were Always Here. I haven’t yet read it and I don’t yet own a copy, but it’s on it’s way to me because I pre-ordered it so fast I nearly fell off the sofa! This is an anthology created by independent publishers 404 Ink, and is a collection of stories and poems celebrating the diversity of Scottish queer experiences.
I’m going to end by recommending a single short story, rather than a collection.
Superior by Jessica Lack is the most adorable, brilliantly written, m/m superhero story, in which a superhero’s intern falls in love with a supervillain’s apprentice. It’s a long short story (or a short novella depending on your opinion) and is unfortunately only available to download from Amazon, but it’s definitely worth it.
That’s all for this week’s recommendations. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, and what you thought of them. If you have more suggestions of LGBTQ short stories comment on this post or come chat to me on Twitter.
If you want to purchase any of these titles you can do so using the affiliate links below, which helps keep this site up and running:
“unrealistic and overly vulgar”, “unnecessary, overly-sexualised”, “so explicit, crude and vulgar”, “entirely inappropriate” – these are just a few of my favourite quotes that I found online referring to the 2015 Raziel Reid novel When Everything Feels Like The Movies. If those kind of reviews don’t make you want to read this brilliant novel, then let me try and convince you some more.
I first read this way back before it’s publication and I loved it, including the shocking ending which – knowing nothing about the true story the book was based on – I was not expecting. I’ve been thinking about this book recently – after reading and totally adoring Jack of Hearts (and other parts) last year – and how sometimes books appear before the time is right for them, and Reid’s novel I think definitely fits into this category.
Just like Jack, Jude (the main character of When Everything Feels Like The Movies) is flamboyant, fabulous, unapologetically queer, lover of sex, and passionate about living his life honestly. The story unfolds in an American junior high school, where Jude sees his life as a movie set, and the people around him as characters in his central drama, bringing to colourful life the drab town he calls home.
The book initially received rave reviews but soon a backlash took place after it was awarded the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. A petition eventually gaining more than 2000 signatures called it a “values-void novel” and the petition’s instigator said “Jude’s sexual yearnings, masturbating, fantasising…and voyeurism constitute the bulk of the narrative”.
Here is a book that depicts the realistic sexual fantasies (and realities) of teenagers and received a lot of negative criticism because the main character is talking about gay sex. There are two main criticisms that negative reviews of the book has, first is that the sexual activity of the teens is unrealistic, and secondly that it is inappropriate for young people to read about sex.
Firstly: teens are having sex, and this includes gay teens. Get over it. Ignoring sex in fiction is not going to make them stop doing it. Isn’t it better that books offer a realistic representation of safe consensual sex? Just because it’s queer doesn’t make it inherently bad.
Secondly, the negativity from adults in relation to books like this always comes from a complete lack of trust. There is no trust that young people reading books such as When Everything Feels Like The Movies or Jack of Hearts will be able to read these books without acting out the activities in them before they are ready to do so. Just because a character talks openly and honestly about gay sex does not mean every teen reading it is going to do those things. A novel like this, expertly written with a realistic sounding teen voice, is able to educate by presenting a character who does experience life and have normal thoughts the same as those young people reading it.
In 2015 when it was first released, When Everything Feels Like The Movies felt like it was on an island by itself – there wasn’t a whole lot of YA queer literature, and it felt almost too realistic for many people to believe. I would love to see how the book would do now, and would recommend that you give it a read if you haven’t yet done so. There are so few representations of queer life (and sex) in books for young people, that it is still refreshing to see this in a novel. Young people reading books need to see themselves represented, and they need to see all aspects of life portrayed.
The end of When Everything Feels Like The Movies is shocking, and may be too upsetting for many people, but I don’t think that detracts from the book. Rather the opposite, here is a book that shows bullying and violence towards a young queer boy but refuses to place the blame for that on Jude himself. This is vital for young people to realise, that they are not to blame. For me, Jack of Hearts is a natural accompaniment to Raziel Reid’s novel. I would hate for publishing to get stuck in one narrative for LGBTQ YA books (or queer fiction more generally) where we only see happy endings and cute stories. Yes, it’s important we have these stories, but it’s also important we show what reality is for many LGBTQ people. This book won’t appeal to everyone, and it hasn’t been written for everyone, but Simon Vs isn’t suited to everyone’s taste either. There is room on the shelves for a full plethora of queer stories, and When Everything Feels Like The Movies deserves to be there too.
I’d love to know if you’ve read When Everything Feels Like The Movies, and what you thought of it. Leave a comment on this post, or come find me on Twitter to chat.
You can buy all the books mentioned in this post, but if you’re in the UK the physical copy of Jack of Hearts is out in February:
If, like me, you’re a life long Oscar Wilde fan and you think you already know everything about him – think again, and pick up a copy of Making Oscar Wilde by Michèle Mendelssohn. It will completely change the way you think about Oscar.
The book takes us back to the start, right when Oscar was making the journey from Ireland to come and study in Oxford. It details his rather unimpressive academic career, and paints an entirely different picture than the one many (Oscar included) would have us believe of the impact he made during his time there. We then travel to America, to the real heart of the journey this book is taking us on, through Oscar’s now infamous tour of America. You may be aware of the highly quotable things he said on his lecture tour of America, but perhaps less aware of the anti-Irish, racist sentiment that followed him around. The book explores how Oscar stumbled through a less than successful tour, plagued by dubious promoters that were as keen to see him succeed as they were to make money from parodying him.
This book will show you an Oscar unlike any you’ve read about before. It primarily focuses on his American tour, and therefore the final few chapters exploring his return to England, and his eventual arrest, imprisonment and death, are quite rushed and lacking in the rich, vivid, detail the rest of the book has. Don’t let that put you off, this is a book worth every moment of your time.
If you want more Oscar to follow on from that, I’ve got a few more recommendations of excellent books detailing more about his life.
The Wilde Album by Merlin Holland is a veritable treasure trove of Oscar photographs, art, and artefacts, with the life of Oscar told by his grandson Merlin. It is a brilliant little book for any Wilde fan, which is why it’s totally devastating that it is no longer in print. Published in 1997 by Fourth Estate, you get still get hold of second-hand copies of this book online, and it’s definitely worth hitting up your local library to see if they have a copy.
Another excellent Merlin Holland edited work is The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde. Reading the full transcript of what happened in Oscar’s own words is gripping and heartbreaking. This edition gives the full details of both cases that resulted in Oscar’s eventual imprisonment.
And finally, no list of Oscar Wilde recommendations would be complete without recommending some of his work. There are great editions of The Picture of Dorian Gray available now, I especially like this Penguin clothbound edition (you know I love a fancy hardback book!) If you haven’t yet read any of Oscar’s short stories, check out The Happy Prince and other stories from Macmillan.
But my top recommendation has to be the Penguin classics collection De Profundis and other prison writings. This is a brilliant selection of Oscar’s poetry and letters from his time in Reading Gaol and isn’t an easy read, but I can’t recommend it more highly.
Let me know if you’ve read Making Oscar Wilde, or your thoughts on anything else Oscar related. Leave a comment here or come find me on Twitter. I was going to finish off with the ultimate cliche and give you an Oscar Wilde quote but instead here’s a tiny part of one of my favourite Oscar poems:
I remember the first time I heard about The Wicked Cometh on Twitter: “lesbian victorian detectives” someone said, and I was sold! It’s not a very thorough or entirely accurate description of this novel by Laura Carlin, but it’s not far wrong.
In London, 1831, Hester White is desperate to escape the slums by any means available to her. She is thrown into the world of the Brock family, and is drawn to the mysterious Rebekah Brock.
This is a dark and atmospheric thriller that takes the reader on a journey through the unravelling of secrets in a plot twist heavy narrative. I loved the descriptions of London and how brilliantly Laura Carlin is at establishing a strong sense of place and its impact on the characters. It is a slow-paced start and speeds through quickly to its conclusion, but the journey there is lusciously written and will definitely be loved by fans of gothic mysteries.
The paperback has just been released and you can buy it now.
Every week in 2019 I’m going to recommend an LGBTQ book to get off your shelves, or off the book shop/library shelves. It’s not just newly published books that deserve love, so I’m going to share my favourites not published in the last 12 months, and if you haven’t yet read them you should check them out.
This 2017 novel follows the story of Sri Lankan-American Lucky and her husband Krishna. The truth of their marriage is a secret only they know: both Lucky and Krishna are gay.
Lucky is forced to return home when her grandmother has a fall and while there she reconnects with her first lover, Nisha. All the old romantic feelings are rekindled but Nisha is about to marry a man. This impending marriage causes confusion for Lucky; she wants to stop Nisha from a marriage based on lies, but Nisha wants to have the comfort and support of her family, something she doesn’t feel she’ll get without the marriage.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a moving portrait of family ties, truth, and love. It is a deep exploration of what it means to live truthfully, and the reality many people face of being excluded from their families and communities if they are open about their sexuality. Sindu writes with depth and clarity, never shying away from uncomfortable moments, but instead embracing them with compassion and honesty.
My reading list of LGBTQ books to read in the next 12 months is phenomenally long, and will probably only get longer as the year goes on. Rather than list them all here I thought I would pull out a few of the ones I’m most looking forward to getting stuck into. Not all of them are 2019 releases, many have been published for a while, so let me know if you’ve read/enjoyed any of them, and what you’re looking forward to reading.
Top LGBTQ books to read in 2019
The House of Impossible Beauties Joseph Cassara
Set in the Harlem ballrooms of the 1980s, this book is the fictionalised account of the foundation of the legendary House of Xtravaganza – a love story, a story of identity, a story about finding your own family in an alienating world. It’s available to buy now.
Tales of the City Armistead Maupin
I watched the TV series way way back in the day when it was first aired (and I was very young) so I’ve forgotten it all now. I’ve had Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, and Further Tales of the City on my book shelves for most of 2018 and didn’t get around to reading them, so I’m determined this year to get through these absolute classics of queer literature, about a community in 1970s San Francisco, and remind myself of everything that was great about the TV show.
Pulp Robin Talley
I tried to get started on this at the end of 2018 but fell pray to illness and had to put it to one side. All I hear is people raving about how amazing this book is so I’m looking forward to picking it up again and finishing it. This novel tells two stories of queer women, one from 1955 and one from 2017, and the connection between the generations. It’s available to buy now.
How could I write this list without including the book everyone will want to read in 2019. An anthology of stories, poems, and illustrations by LGBTQ writers and artists, this book is firmly on the top of my to-read pile for 2019.
It features stories and art from: Steve Antony, Dean Atta, Kate Alizadeh, Fox Benwell, Alex Bertie, Caroline Bird, Fatti Burke, Tanya Byrne, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Frank Duffy, Simon James Green, Leo Greenfield, Saffa Khan, Karen Lawler, David Levithan, Priyanka Meenakshi, Alice Oseman, Michael Lee Richardson, David Roberts, Cynthia So, Kay Staples, Jessica Vallance, Kristen Van Dam and Kameron White.
I can’t wait to read the second novel from Sophie Cameron. I loved Out of the Blue and this one sounds like it’s going to be just as good, just check out the blurb:
Brody Fair has had enough of real life. Enough of the bullies on his block, of being second best to his genius brother, and of not fitting in at school or at home. Then one day he meets Nico. Colourful, confident and flamboyant, he promises to take Brody to Everland, a diverse magical place. A place where he can be himself, where there are no rules, time doesn’t pass, and the party never ends. The only catch? It’s a place so good, you could lose yourself and forget what’s real.
Aidan Lockwood lives in a sleepy farming community known for its cattle ranches and not much else. That is, until Jarrod, a friend he hasn’t seen in years, moves back to town. It’s Jarrod who opens Aidan’s eyes to events he’s long since forgotten, and who awakes in him feelings that go beyond mere friendship. But as Aidan’s memories return, so do some unsettling truths about his family. As Aidan begins to probe into long-buried secrets, the lines between the past and the present, tales and truths, friends and lovers begin to blur, and Aidan will need to confront a family curse before he can lay claim to his life once more.
This is another book that has been on my shelves for a while, but I’m making time for it early in 2019. It’s available to buy now.
How about a book that doesn’t even have a cover yet? I have to include How To Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters, because I’m pretty sure I’d read anything Julian writes and love it:
“A coming-of-age story about a popular, out-and-proud teen who is assigned to write an essay describing himself, and ends up on a journey to reconcile the labels that people have attached to him.”
Don’t worry, I’ll be the first yelling about this when it’s available for pre-order and there’s a cover ready to show you, but keep an eye out for this brilliant book, it’ll be out in the world on September 10th.
Blue Boy Rakesh Satyal
First published in 2009, this coming of age story about a 12 year old queer Indian boy is one of the first books I’m going to be buying in 2019.
I’ve read some conflicting reviews but most of the negative ones have been boarding on homophobic, which just makes me want to read it more. The paperback is still available to buy.
Dancer from the Dance Andrew Holleran
Another of those classics of gay literature that I’ve still not read (this one called “one of the most important works of gay literature”), so 2019 should be the year I finally read Andrew Holleran’s about a man looking for love in the New York gay clubs of the mid-1970s. You can buy a copy here.
What LGBTQ books are you looking forward to reading in 2019? Let me know, I always need more to add to my shelves (not true, my list is already 75 books long for 2019 – and I’ll review loads of them here!)
I decided to look back on 2018 and write about all the great LGBTQ books I read this year, except I found a bit of a problem with this. I read so many many that the resulting blog post would be longer than anyone wants to read!
This means I’ve had to do the painful task of trying to whittle it down to a top 10 – this was painful, but after weeks of agonising I’ve finally managed it.
If you got some book vouchers for Christmas and don’t know what to spend them on, have a look at the books below, you can’t go far wrong with these. I’ll also be posting my preview of books to look out for in 2019, so if you’ve already read all the books in this post, come back soon for another round of suggestions.
Top 10 (in no particular order)
Jack of Hearts (and other parts) L. C. Rosen
Yes, I’m definitely cheating by including this one, as the paperback is still due for release in the UK, but you can buy the US hardback, and get hold of the ebook easily, and you definitely should.
Full of positive representations of gay sex, explorations of the desexualisation of LGBTQ people in order to make them acceptable to a straight cis audience, and a smattering of stalker drama, this YA contemporary novel is perfect to get you thinking, laughing, and being shocked (if you get shocked by descriptions of threesomes). My full review is here. You can preorder the paperback now.
The Wicked Cometh Laura Carlin
This gothic historical novel is out in paperback very soon, so I’ll be reviewing it in full in the new year to coincide with that. A story set in London in 1832 about women pushing themselves out of their confined roles, investigating crimes, and loving each other.
Heart-warming, heart-breaking, brilliantly realistic and honest. Skylarks deals sensitively with poverty, class, and social injustice whilst giving us a slow-burn romance between two teenage girls.
And what’s not to love about a romance that blossoms while working in a library? I honestly couldn’t put this down and was gripped from the first page. Available to buy now.
The Absolutist John Boyne
A novel of the First World War, set in the immediate years after but travelling back to the trenches to tell the story of 20-year-old Tristan and his life, love, and the trauma of war.
It is predictably depressing, as so many historical novels about gay men are, but the realities are handled sensitively and with compassion. Available to buy now.
Noah Could Never Simon James Green
If you’re looking for a break from all the misery of the historical novels I’ve recommended so far, you can’t do better than Simon James Green’s absolutely hilarious novels.
If you’ve not yet read it, get hold of the first book Noah Can’t Even, before moving on to the second instalment in the life of poor Noah Grimes. The YA book is a mystery, an adventure, a romance, and is (of course) full of embarrassing conundrums that Noah will once again fail to deal with very well, it’s available to buy now.
Mussolini’s Island Sarah Day
Now we’re back to the depressing historical novels, sorry. Set in Italy in 1939, this is a fictionalised account of the true story of an island where gay men were imprisoned. A thriller as well as a deeply moving account of the realities of being a gay man in the 1930s. It is well written and impeccably researched, and is available to buy now.
Running With Lions Julian Winters
Let’s move right back to the more cheerful contemporary novels, but with no less an important point to make. This YA novel, set in a US soccer summer camp, is a brilliant exploration of the role sports can play in bridging differences, celebrating diversity, and providing the space for a queer summer romance. I can’t wait to read Julian’s next novel, because this debut is outstanding – you can buy it now.
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea Shyam Selvadurai
This 2007 novel was recommended to me by the author of the next book in my list (thanks Sophie!) and quickly became a favourite read this year. Set in the monsoon season in Sri Lanka in 1980, this novel is about a young boy trying to find his place in the world, while falling in love with his Canadian cousin, to the backdrop of the school production of Othello.
This is a tale about family, friendship, sexuality, identity, loyalty, and first love. Selvadurai captures the atmosphere of a time and place perfectly and writes with heartbreaking honesty. It’s available to buy now.
Out of the Blue Sophie Cameron
Set in Edinburgh during the festival, when angels are falling from the sky (not figuratively), this book is about grief, love, friendship, obsession, and gives great instructions on how you might go about hiding an angel you who’s fallen to earth. A beautiful novel that I can’t recommend more – buy it now.
The Gloaming Kirsty Logan
My final recommendation has to be included because everything Kirsty Logan does is exquisite. A magical tale of love and grief, full of fairy tales. The novel also explores family relationships and tensions, it gives a haunting portrayal of the ties that bring us home and those that push us away, and it delves deep into grief. A truly magical tale of love available to buy now.
I’ll be posting again in the next few days my anticipated reads of 2019 – they won’t all be new releases because older books deserve some love too, come back soon for more LGBTQ reads.